November 10th 2002 · Prague Watchdog / Josef Mrázek · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: CZECH RUSSIAN 

Embraced by Moscow

Embraced by Moscow

Speaking at today's meeting with representatives of the Chechen community in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his agreement with their initiative to accelerate the "constitutional process" in the Chechen Republic, i.e. especially to adopt a new Chechen constitution. In this connection we want to offer to our readers the following article on the issue, which was written by one of our correspondents this October. Prague Watchdog editors.

Embraced by Moscow

Josef Mrázek, special to Prague Watchdog

Among the reports on new fighting in Chechnya, the continuous violation of human rights in the region and the conflict settlement between Russian and Georgia, somewhat different news has surfaced. In early August the Moscow-backed administration of Akhmad Kadyrov completed a draft constitution which is to add a clear legal framework to the provisional and unclear status of Chechnya.

Based on the constitution, presidential and parliamentary elections would be held thus making the political representatives appointed by Moscow legitimate before the Russian federal laws. This seemingly inessential bureaucratic matter that has lost the attention of the media represents quite an important moment. The Kadyrov administration has created a legal document through which the relatively autonomous and independent republic would become an integral part of Russia.

What are the chances that Kadyrov´s plan will succeed? Will he manage to push it through face to face with once rebellious Chechens? Is this the right time to discuss the Chechen constitution, when the war continues?

Countless unsuccessful attempts

Since the first day of its independence, Chechnya has had difficulties with the legal anchoring of its status. The first Chechen constitution appeared soon after the break up of the Chechen-Ingush Republic in September 1991. Acording to the constitution written by the supporters of the then newly appointed Dzhokhar Dudayev, Chechnya was an independent democratic state with laws complying with the norms of Islam.

In 1995–1996, the pro-Moscow regime of Doku Zavgayev attempted to adopt its version of the constitution closer to the Kremlin´s example. His people, however, did not manage to finish their initiative: on August 16, 1996 Chechen guerrillas regained control of Grozny and the plans for the country´s rapprochement with the Kremlin were in vain. At the end of the very same month, the Khasavyurt agreement was signed confirming Chechnya´s independence.

Following the independent presidential election of 1997, Islamic law was eventually introduced in the country at the order of the new president Aslan Maschadov. Along with the parliamentary democratic elements, Islamic law was to form the backbone of the new country.

The fragile and in many aspects confused state structure was weakened by internal political disputes. The position of the new president was also getting weaker, and Shamil Basayev, the increasingly stronger and increasingly radical supporter of the Wahabis off-shoot of Islam, publicly called on him to give up his competencies and dissolve the parliament. In Basayev’s opinion, the Islamic Council, or the Shura, was to run the country with the chief Emir at its head.

Maskhadov rejected Basayev´s appeal and assigned his closest colleagues to work out a new draft of the constitution intertwining the democratic principles with the country´s Islamic tradition. The president´s supporters, however, did not manage to do so. The second Russian – Chechen war broke out in the country in September 1999.

Illegal modus vivendi

The system of the new pro-Moscow bodies and their function in the regained Chechen territory was officially formulated in June 2000 in Vladimir Putin´s presidential decree on the establishment of the temporary system of bodies of executive power in Chechnya. According to some Russian lawyers and independent observers, such a form of state administration is in total contrast to the valid federal legislation in Russia. Chechnya does not have a Prime Minister chosen in a democratic election, nor another head of the administration of the republic. The parliament is not functioning and heads of local administrations are appointed from above.

Moscow has tried to cover such an illegal status with the help of a new special federal law on Chechnya. The law was to legalize the state of affairs in the republic and many other “nonstandard” forms of administration in this war region. However, when the Kremlin lawyers realized that due to the number of questionable parts the draft law might not get through the Russian Constitutional Court they decided to postpone the solution to the problem until later.

The definite solution is to be brought about by the new Chechen constitution. Teams of several Chechen politicians and public figures, including Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Ruslan Khasbulatov, Malik Saydulayev or Akhmat Kadyrov, had worked on five different versions of the constitution since the last summer. No wonder agitation accompanied the whole matter – when selecting the final draft in July this year Moscow chose the version tailored to create the closest link between Chechnya and the federal center, that is the constitution of the current head of the Chechen administration Kadyrov.

Tailor-made constitution

Kadyrov’s draft constitution is literally tailored to the needs of Moscow and his own administration. To a great extent it copies the Russian constitution, apprehensively avoiding any mention of Chechen independence. Right from the first article, which instead of including any statement on independence, sovereignty or autonomy states that the republic is an “administrative establishment within Russia”. According to the constitution all residents of Chechnya are citizens of the Russian Federation and the official languages are Russian and Chechen.

Further articles of the new constitution confirm a number of important rights, such as the freedom of movement within the republic or the inviolability of private property. However, these are followed by less democratic provisions. Among others, Akhmad Kadyrov reserves for himself the right to directly name the heads of local administrations for the next five years without democratic elections.

The single most interesting detail of the entire proposal is that the new Chechen president must be a “person over 35 years of age, who continually resided within the territory of the republic for the past ten years”. Although this Kadyrov’s attempt to disqualify in advance a number of his rivals living in Moscow (Khasbulatov, Aslakhanov, Gantamirov, Saildulayev or Arsamakov) soon had to be dropped due to its incompatibility with the Russian constitution, it serves as yet another proof of the hopeless disunity among the Chechen political elite.

War is going on

According to Vladimir Putin’s recent statement the “establishment of legislative and executive power in Chechnya” – which includes the completion of a draft constitution, holding a nationwide referendum on it and organizing the ensuing parliamentary and presidential elections – should be finished “at the latest by the end of next year.” In this way the Kremlin expects to put a formal full stop to its entire military action in Chechnya. However, the stronger the vehemence of the federal center in driving this process forward, the higher the number of skeletons falling out of its closet.

During the three years since the beginning of the so-called anti-terrorist campaign, not even the most basic conditions necessary for drafting a constitution or holding elections have been established. Verbal proclamations from Moscow notwithstanding, Chechnya has seen neither the restoration of constitutional order nor the claimed capture and eradication of Chechen terrorists.

“They [field commanders] are giving interviews to reporters while the Russian secret services say they are unable to locate them,” Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a Chechen deputy to the Russian State Duma, told the Moscow Times, an English language Russian daily in late September. “It means that eliminating terrorists was not on the agenda of the Russian warmongers elimination of terrorists is not the true objective of the Russian warmongers,“ he added bitterly.

Bewildering postwar chaos rules in the country. As the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration Akhmad Kadyrov put it in a recent interview for The New York Times, “War is over, but there is no peace.” Local attacks of Chechen guerrillas on Russian military targets did not cease. As a result, Russian soldiers are still dying daily. It is difficult to find out their total number since the beginning of the military action in 1999. Nevertheless, even the lowest estimates claim 4500 or more persons.

Basic human rights of Chechen civilians still remain only on paper. Within the three years of the new war tens of thousands of civilians were killed, hundreds more are daily subject to unlawful detention, humiliation and torture during so-called “zachistki”, anti-terrorist sweep actions in Chechen towns and villages.

Some changes

Some experts on the north Caucasus region, such as Nabi Abdullayev in a recent Transitions Online article, remark that the current dismal situation does show some signs of improvement. To get a true image of the entire problem one has to compare the present with the period of Chechen independence during 1996-99. According to him the level of corruption, instability, human rights violations and negligence of social services was even worse at that time.

However critically one might view the situation, one has to acknowledge that Russia, despite all its indisputable errors and crimes, today has a stabilizing role in Chechnya. Without Russian presence, things could be much worse, according to Abdullayev.

Abdullayev’s point deserves some attention. The period of Chechen independence in 1996-99 indeed can hardly be called a great era of human rights and social security. All the problems named by Abdullayev truly existed in Chechnya and were felt by Chechen civilians, most of whom in the end longed more than anyone for a change of their corrupt, weak and powerless regime. But not a change coming from the hands of their long-time rival, Russia.

However, it was Moscow and Vladimir Putin on its behalf who in 1999 declared without any consultation with the local de facto independent Chechen government that the problem of Chechnya is Russia’s internal issue and promised it would change the grim, unsustainable and dangerous situation. The so-called anti-terrorist campaign of the Russian federal army was supposed to eliminate the internal chaos in the country. What was its outcome in reality?

Few results

Setting aside any doubts about the sincerity of Putin’s intentions to establish true constitutional order in Chechnya (rather than riding the triggered wave of ethnic hatred towards Chechens to the top of the Russian political scene), the region was gradually occupied by the Russian federal army, forcing the local rebels who supported the existing regime into the mountains.

However, the soldiers committed so many brutalities and unnecessary devastation of the country that it is hard to believe their main objective was indeed restoration of constitutional order. After large-scale military operations of the Russian army ceased in February-March 2001, some things did improve. Civil administration was gradually established in Chechnya. While being corrupt as well, it respects at least some basic rules. This year part of the long-promised funds for reconstruction started coming from Moscow. The number of repaired houses, cleaned roads and paid out pensions is slowly increasing in the country.

However, the coin has also another side. The money sent from Moscow to Grozny is only a fraction of the amount supposed to be invested in postwar reconstruction of the country, restoration of social services and thus regaining the trust of local inhabitants. Moreover, a large part of these funds disappears in convoluted financial machinations, so that instead of going to the people it ends in the pockets of scheming officials.

The current situation clearly brings profit to the narrow lobby of the Russian federal army and local criminal gangs linked to it, helping the army to conceal illegal arms trade, oil trafficking, drug trade and other lucrative trades. War with clearly defined sides already long ago disintegrated into a tangled mess of settling of personal accounts, battles over territories of illegal trade, random killing and pillaging. It is now hardly possible to distinguish the boundaries of the original Russian-Chechen conflict.

Dashed hopes

For those Chechens who might have put their hopes in the Moscow administration in 1999 this is a clear proof they were left alone yet again. “Ordinary Chechens today stagger between hopes for a better future promised by Moscow already for three years and the open brutality of Russian soldiers killing and torturing their relatives,” says Shamil Beno, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Dzhokhar Dudayev’s government, now living in Moscow.

According to Beno, these are all signs of the underlying crucial problem of the entire conflict – the gulf between the actions of the federal center and the trust of ordinary Chechen civilians after three years of the conflict is still vast. Moreover, due to ongoing flagrant human rights violations from Russian soldiers and Moscow’s lack of interest in true development of the country ravaged by war the gulf has deepened further.

The process of adopting the new Chechen constitution prepared by Akhmad Kadyrov’s team can signify a true change only after peace is achieved in the country. Even if the constitution is adopted, without peace conditions in the country, it will be no more than a scrap of paper.

Clearly there are many complicated steps that lead to peace. The first thing to achieve is Moscow’s recognition of the necessity of peace talks in Chechnya. Second, the up to now fragmented Chechen political representation must be able to unite and the opposition government of Aslan Maskhadov must demonstrate its ability to control Chechen rebel groups. Third, the corrupt Russian army and criminal gangs linked to it must be withdrawn and ousted from the country, replaced by a respected domestic force capable of maintaining order. Fourth, economic restoration of the country must be initiated and a steady flow of investments from the federal center should be secured, however small they may be.

Without these steps neither drafting nor adopting a new Chechen constitution has any actual sense.

Josef Mrázekis a Prague Watchdog contributor.


 · Draft constitution of the Chechen Republic (Moscow-backed Chechen administration, 17-12-2002)
 · Constitution of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (Chechenpress)


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